How much parental-leave should I take?

We know that officially in the UK we are entitled to take up to 52 weeks of maternity/adoption leave or 50 weeks of Shared Parental Leave – but should we take the full entitlement?  What impact would this have on our careers if we take the full entitlement and what impact would it have on our family-lives if we took a lot less?

We frequently get asked how long new parents should take off for family-related leave.  The easy answer is that there is no right answer.  Even the Office of National Statistics doesn’t record the UK average time taken off for this leave.  If this was recorded, it would be of little help, because knowing how much leave to take is such an individual decision, with several key factors to take into consideration.

It’s helpful that we don’t need to commit to our length of leave before we go off, needing only to give 8 weeks’ notice of our planned return date.  This gives a good length of time to consider the following in-depth:

  1. Financial position

The main driver for most is how long you can afford to take off for leave.  So the first step is to fully understand exactly how much you will be paid (statutory and/or by your employer) and for how long.  Many families, however, are now trading money for family-time – some people decide that they can survive financially for an extra month of unpaid or statutory leave if it means they get the upside of family-time

  1. What are your priorities in the short-term

It’s useful to discuss with your other half (or other family members) what is important to you during this first year of the baby’s birth.  It could be that one of you has a potential promotion on the cards or a great project opportunity; it could be that one of you is feeling a stronger need to have time-out and concentrate on the role of the parent for now

  1. What is your and your partner’s future career plan?

Whether you choose to take a year or 3 months of leave, it shouldn’t have a negative impact on your future career prospects.  However, this can be dependent on your organisation’s culture and your manager.  Sometimes returners of a longer period of leave feel they have to work a little harder on filling the knowledge gaps, navigating the changes and rebuilding personal confidence and productivity levels.  Consider also that your rights of return differ slightly after the first 6 months of maternity leave – read more here

  1. How are you feeling?

The chances are that you will be suffering from either sleep deprivation or lack of ‘me-time’ to devote to personal health and wellbeing.  If this is the case, consider that every month longer you take off will give you time to recover physically and prepare for the emotional transition of becoming a professional again.  Only you will know when you are ready for this – don’t let anyone at work or home pressure you into returning earlier than you feel ready

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